160 Prospect Ave., Hackensack
If Italian restaurants are a dime a dozen in Bergen County, the solid food and extensive menu at Bel Posto in Hackensack are worth at least a few quarters.
Attached to two of the countless condo towers on Prospect Avenue, Bel Posto's squat, country-club exterior might feel a little at odds with its surroundings. But it offers a warm, well-appointed interior of chandeliers and pillars and light jazz.
The spot used to belong to The Restaurant, and more recently to Marrone's 160, before owner Anthony Palmieri renamed it Bel Posto. Helming the kitchen is executive chef David Emmett, formerly of Portobello in Oakland.
Dinner starts with a trip through page after page of a thorough menu: specials, cold and hot appetizers, salads, soups, pastas, chicken on the bone, chicken off the bone, veal, fish, beef, grilled items, house specialties. You get the idea.
And after three courses, you also get the idea that you can't go tremendously wrong with anything on the menu.
Kicking things off, the very enjoyable portobello milanese appetizer consists of one large mushroom top sliced into strips and then breaded, fried and laid in a bit of garlic butter sauce. The shrimp salerno presents a half dozen fat shrimp sautŽed in an excellent lemony scampi sauce, though it lacks the promised spiciness. And the mozzarella en carozza is likable enough, largely because its cheese is much fresher than you'll find elsewhere.
Arguably the standout appetizer is the Cajun calamari, though for the life of me I can't imagine where it got the name. Tossed in a mixture of garlic, ginger, balsamic vinegar and teriyaki sauce and topped with bruschetta, the fresh, lightly fried squid is a (decidedly non-Cajun) delight.
Entrees include a rich penne bolognese and an excellent veal parm. And the veal d'Elia, a breaded veal cutlet stuffed with prosciutto, ricotta, mozzarella and spinach, impresses in size and taste. "When they say it's stuffed," one diner said, "they're not kidding. That is really stuffed."
Beef tournedos and shrimp d'Amelio features two very tender, very well-prepared cuts of filet topped with plump shrimp and paired with a wine demi glaze and fried artichoke hearts. And the pappardelle mare & monte presents a heaping portion of wonderful freshly made pasta stirred with prosciutto, shrimp, shitake mushrooms and artichokes in a thin, refreshing pink sauce. The artichoke threatens to overpower the dish now and then, but otherwise the flavors work.
Dessert is enjoyable including not-too-sweet pecan pie and a moist red velvet cake. Slices of pumpkin pie and carrot cake offer solid taste, and apple pie and chocolate mousse cake round out the choices.
Overall, the menu's highlights make Bel Posto worth a look.